Surviving Dreamforce 2007

Thankfully, I survived my four days at’s annual conference; Dreamforce 2007, all the while nursing a tremendous cold. My apologies to everyone and all I infected. Given the sheer number of people in attendance, my little cold is soon to be a global pandemic.

This was my third Dreamforce and it was interesting to see how much it has grown over time. This year was the first time it took over the entirety of the Moscone Center. With so many vendors, presentations, sessions, and activities it was impossible (and a bit frustrating) to take everything in. With nearly every vendor giving away an iPod as part of some marketing ploy, I felt confident in my chances to win an upgrade to my Treo 650. Alas, my low energy kept me from mustering the effort to collect stamps, spin wheels, and keep up with peppy salespeople. Congratulations to all you winners.

The core of the event was the release of Platform: A ground-breaking platform for customizing and integrating CRM, as well as developing and deploying brand-new applications.

For anyone, who’s used Salesforce to develop custom apps for processes unrelated to customers and accounts, this is an obvious move. It’s essentially what Microsoft tried to achieve by including Access in the standard Office suite; provide a user-friendly, easy-to-use, flexible database and application development tool for non-technical users. Access never quite hit that mark. While, the highly configurable Salesforce provides wizard-driven features for creating tables, reports, and workflow right out of the box. Moreover, it scales and starts off web-enabled. Hosted SQL without the DBA.

Given my drippy nose and pallid complextion, I found refuge among like fellows in the developer’s lounge. There VisualForce was all the rage. Along with Apex (announced at Dreamforce 2006 and now just available, though only to Unlimited Edition users), VisualForce represents a huge leap forward in native application development for Salesforce. While I like the simplicity of the standard SF user interface, there are times when I want more than just a two column layout, Inline S-controls was a nice first step, but VisualForce is the real deal. Previewing some of the demos, which included creating a Salesforce app for the iPhone interface (here’s to hoping mine is in the mail), I liked how much control a developer had over the look and feel of a custom app just using a plain english markup language. One of the first things that impressed me when first using Salesforce was the effective use of AJAX. In keeping with that tradition, VisualForce can be coded using an in-page IDE which provides suggestions and autofills tags as you type, a la Dreamweaver or Eclipse. Another huge feature, is the ability to upload code libraries in a file archive format. This means you could load and reference a Javascript files contained in a zip file using a nested folder structure. Where was this when I was trying to use TinyMCE to add an HTML WYSIWYG editor to an s-control a few months ago? No more cross site scripting errors now. One of the sessions demonstrated exactly that feature, in fact, though I didn’t catch the exact library used. It looks like some common libraries, like Dojo, will be included in VisualForce.

Unfortunately, as with Apex last year, I will have to wait an unreasonably long time to get my hands on the general release of VisualForce (mid-2008?) and the rest of the Winter ’08 features. Reducing this long lag between promise and delivery is why I think Dreamforce 2008 is being moved from September to November. Given the growth, I also predict the venue will be moved to AT&T Park.

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